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When Jomo Kenyatta ordered China’s embassy closed

KENYA: The relationship between Kenya and China during the first few years after independence was so cold that at some point founding President Jomo Kenyatta suspended ties with the communist regime and ordered the closure of its embassy in Nairobi.

The bad blood between the two governments was not based on any tangible diplomatic differences, but on political disparities amongst local politicians and their perceived ties with the communists.

Although other players would be roped into the squabble from time to time, depending on the circumstances, the tiff mainly revolved around three key players; Kenyatta, Tom Mboya and Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.

In 1967, Kenya severed diplomatic ties with China after an anti-communist campaign led by Mboya and other Kanu leaders, including former President Daniel arap Moi. This was after Jaramogi had been expelled from Kanu by Kenyatta and his party-Kenya Peoples- Union (KPU), banned

The Government had suspected China of supporting KPU. The East African Standard reported that when Jaramogi quit Kanu to form his new opposition party KPU in 1966, Mboya declared: “Those who are following him blindly will suffer forever.”

But the shaky relationship between the two countries deteriorated further after the assassination of Mboya in 1969. China became the focus of special censure after their embassy defied a request from President Kenyatta to fly their flag at half-mast, the paper reported.

'This communist disrespect, furiously castigated in the media and Parliament, led to calls for the last few officials of the Peiping regime still in Nairobi to be ejected, reported the paper. The backlash against the communists continued for some time after Mboya's murder, but the focus was more on their relationship with Odinga's KPU, which had by then been banned.

In 1971, then army commander Maj-Gen Joseph Ndolo, Chief Justice Kitili Mwendwa and others were involved in an attempted coup. It came not long after Idi Amin had executed a successful overthrow of the Obote regime earlier in that year, echoing events in several other African countries.

Treasonous act

'The Kenyan plot was scrambled when university lecturer Ouma Muga allegedly went to Tanzania's President Julius Nyerere to seek funds for  the coupx. Rather than help, Nyerere arrested the plotters and informed Kenyan military intelligence, reported the East African Standard.

According to Charles Hornsby, author of Kenya: A History Since Independence, over a dozen people were arrested in Kenya, including four ex-KPU members. But despite the perceived links between KPU, China and Russia, for some reason, the Kenyatta Government played down the evidence of KPU involvement in the 1971 coup.
Just a year earlier, however, it had extracted public confessions from former Odinga allies, who claimed the KPU leader was receiving foreign funds to undermine Kenyatta. One said Odinga had received Sh1 million ($140,000) from China, Russia and North Korea between 1967 and 1969. China, he claimed, was the main donor, with Russia having become dissatisfied with the KPU leader in 1965.

'These efforts to weaken Odinga only served to make ethnic relations worse. As the coup plotters later explained, it was the tribal turn that Kenyatta had taken in 1969 after Mboya's killing that sparked their treasonous act.